Sassafras Ridge Falls

Sassafras Ridge Falls

Nikon D800, Nikon 28-300mm lens at 34mm, f/16, 0.8 second, ISO 100, polarizing filter.

Beauty Rating:
4 (See Overview section)
Trail and bushwhack
Tributary of Hurricane Creek
River Basin:
Little Tennessee
Very small
3,860 feet
Type and Height:
Starts as an 18-foot steep falls, then flows through a narrow chute to a 20'drop with cascades and little drops below.
Nantahala National Forest
Rainbow Spring
Hike Distance:
About 1.2 miles
Hike Difficulty:
Photo Rating:
Waterfall GPS:
Trailhead GPS:
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Driving Directions

From the junction of US 441/23 and US 64 in Franklin, drive west on US 64 for 11.95 miles and turn left on West Old Murphy Road. There is a sign here for Wallace Gap and Standing Indian Campground. Drive 1.9 miles to Wallace Gap, turn right on FR 67, and go 1.7 miles to where the road forks. The right fork leads to the campground. Take the left fork and drive 2.1 miles to the gated FR 7282 on the left. The road changes to gravel on the way. There is a sign at FR 7282 for Blackwell Gap Loop and Hurricane Creek Loop. If there is no room to park at the gate, there is a small pullout a short distance back up the road.

FR 67 may be gated in winter at a point 0.1 mile from the turnaround where the pavement ends. This will add about 1.7 one-way miles to the hike.

Hike Description

If you plan to do any hiking in the area other than following these directions to the letter, I recommend you get the Southern Nantahala Wilderness and Standing Indian Basin map published by the Forest Service. It is an excellent topo map showing hiking and horse trails. Many of these trails are not shown on the Rainbow Springs topo map. Regardless of what map you use, I should caution you about the many discrepancies regarding forest road and trail numbers. If you plan to follow a route different from what I describe here, you should carry a GPS unit and know how to read a topo map.

The trail follows the old forest road beyond the gate and ascends moderately to reach a trail marked 36B turning right at about 0.5 mile. I have no idea where this trail leads, but I suspect it goes to Hurricane Creek Horse and Primitive Campground. Continue on the road for about 35 yards to where another road turns left. Continue straight ahead and in a quarter-mile you’ll cross a small branch. The branch runs through a pipe under the road, so it might not be obvious. Before you reach the crossing, you might spot Horse Trail Falls on the branch through the trees. It’s not worth climbing down the bank unless the water is very high.

Immediately past the crossing, an old overgrown logging road veers right. Follow it along the contour for a little less than 0.4 mile. The road passes very close by the falls. You’ll hear it easily and see it well in winter. You can’t view all of the waterfall from any one point, so you’ll have to climb around to see it all.


If you followed the drainage upstream from Sassafras Falls, you’d eventually come to the Appalachian Trail at Sassafras Ridge. The AT turns north off the ridge at this point, while Sassafras Ridge goes west and follows a parallel course along the stream all the way down to FR 67. The ridge and waterfall are named for the sassafras tree. The tree is unique in that a single branch may contain three different shapes of leaves—oval, mitten-shaped, and trident-shaped.

Sassafras Falls won’t win any awards for beauty for a long time. Fallen trees and branches cover nearly the entire waterfall and there isn’t any spot from which to view the entire falls. At my visit, only one spot was devoid of fallen trees, and it’s just a small section below the lower 20-foot drop.

I had a tough time deciding on a beauty rating. Devoid of fallen trees, I suspect it would rate much higher than 4. The lower section in particular is interesting the way it drops and then flows around a large boulder in the middle of the stream. But as it is, in my eye it hardly rates more than 3. I gave it a 4 rating as I suspect some people will enjoy it even without the clutter.

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